The Austin Chronicle

I Went Down

Rated PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Paddy Breathnach. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Peter McDonald, Peter Caffrey, Tony Doyle.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 3, 1998

This refreshing little Irish comedy is an offbeat story about small-time hoods and the mess they've gotten themselves into. But really, the film's petty-crime plot is mere window dressing for a disarmingly amusing road movie in which droll dialogue and engaging characters form the heart of what this movie is actually about. A pleasure to watch, though slow to ignite, it's easy to see why I Went Down has earned the distinction of being the highest grossing independent Irish film in that country's history. Not only is it redolent with sly, insidious charms but it's a film that breaks out of the stereotypical Irish mold of films about dark, troubled families, sprightly leprechaun blarney, picturesque settings, and the unending religious and political strife that rends the country to the core. Written by the acclaimed playwright Conor McPherson (St. Nicholas, The Lime Tree Bower), the film follows the fortunes of Git Hynes (McDonald), who “went down” for a crime he didn't commit and, as the story begins, has just emerged from an eight-month prison stint. Sticking by his best friend from childhood (even though this chum has moved in on Git's girlfriend during his incarceration), Git gets into a scrape when he defends his friend from mob enforcers out to break his fingers. As a result of this impulsive act, Git is forced to perform a small service for Dublin crime boss Tom French (Doyle) -- pick up some cash from a one-time associate named Frank Grogan (Caffrey) and then deliver him to a henchman known only as “a friendly face.” To do this task, French partners the young, innocent, good-looking, and slightly built Git with the seasoned, beefy, middle-aged Bunny Kelly (Gleeson). A pair of opposites, they get on each other's nerves. Seemingly, they have nothing in common but their troubles with women and their unfulfilled debts to Tom French. Bunny, with his comically bushy sideburns and his insatiable sweet tooth, is a shabby excuse for a criminal -- the kind of guy who knows how to steal a car but can't figure out how to pop open its locked gas cap. Their captive, Frank Grogan, is a chatty piece of cargo and through him, Git and Bunny learn a few more pieces of the puzzle. These four characters continue to intersect throughout the movie, but it's how things occur rather than the what that makes things here so interesting. The dryly hilarious dialogue and these four charming performances are the film's intrinsic delights. Intermittent chapter headings that set off various sequences, however, are more distracting than intrinsic -- except for the opening quote from Plato that suggests but one of the title's multiple meanings. I Went Down is a small, unexpected treat that promises full satisfaction.

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